Real Scandals vs. 24 Hour News Cycle Scandals


220px-Letter_of_Resignation_of_Richard_M._Nixon,_1974

It seems to me that the idea of a “scandal” in politics today is basically just anything that one side or the other is willing to keep talking about over and over again. This is largely because the nature of American politics has changed. There is too much media now, too many media consultants, and way too many talking points. You can basically argue any point, provided you mindlessly repeat the point that is given to you. You can therefore call anything a scandal that you would like.

What makes something a “scandal,” as opposed to a screw-up? Here’s a few general guidelines, not rules:

  1. Criminal behavior. If you didn’t break the law, it’s hard to have a “scandal.” Yes, I know that I just ruled out adultery by this standard, and in most cases I mean to. See the next point.
  2. Hypocrisy. If your behavior is in direct violation of supposed principles and deeply held beliefs, you deserve for your behavior to blow up in your face.
  3. Bad intentions. Yes, this is what absolutely rules out something stupid, like Benghazi. Mistakes can be made, even deadly ones, but unless there was some sort of intent to do harm, it’s a mistake, not a scandal.

Obviously one of these can be missing, and it can be a scandal. If you walk around talking about gay people as some sort of curse on humanity, then sleep with same-sex prostitutes, you deserve to have a “scandal.” Likewise, even if you didn’t intend to hurt anyone, if you commit a crime and violate your “beliefs,” you’re deserving of a scandal. On the point of criminal behavior, if you’re violating the law with your behavior, you do deserve to receive scorn for that.

When I listen to Republicans talk about Hillary Clinton’s “e-mail scandal,” I laugh because basically none of these standards are met. Same for Benghazi. Yes, there are reasons for Democrats to be mad at Clinton for these issues dogging her campaign, and to have doubts about the ability to put these stories to bed, but that does not make them “scandals.” It might make them campaign issues, screw-ups, or real negatives for her run, but this idea of these things being a scandal is ridiculous. A scandal needs to meet much higher standards.

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